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Congo Rebels Call For Talks Amid Chaos


This is Weekend Edition from NPR News. I'm Alison Stewart. In the Democratic Republic of Congo, a rebel army outside the eastern capital of Goma is pushing for direct talks with the government. But despite major territorial gains this week, they have yet to reach the bargaining table. NPR's Gwen Thompkins joins us from a rebel-controlled area. Gwen, what's going on?

GWEN THOMPKINS: Alison, I'm in a town called Rutshuru, which fell to the rebel army about three days ago. Rutshuru was not a town that was defended by the Congolese Army during the rebel advance. They just melted away. The rebels pretty much came in and took over. And right now, I'm at a stadium where there is a rally being held in favor of the rebels, a rally that the rebels call spontaneous, although they put together all sorts of synchronized events. There was a parade and there were huge placards that people were carrying saying, "We say yes to negotiations."

STEWART: Just so everyone understands who the players are, tell us who the rebels are and what they want from negotiations.

THOMPKINS: This is a Tutsi-led outfit that's under the control of General Laurent Nkunda, who is a Congolese ethnic Tutsi. Years ago, this organization began as, Mr. Nkunda says, a means by which to protect Eastern Congo's small Tutsi population against those who perpetuated the Rwandan genocide in 1994 and who melted over the border into Eastern Congo. Right now, the rebel organization says that their mandate has expanded beyond the ethnic Tutsi minority here in Eastern Congo and that they represent the little people of Congo.

What they want right now, they say, is they want positions in government. They want the funds that come from the minimal resources of Eastern Congo, more of those funds to come back to Eastern Congo and not to go to the central government in Kinshasa. They say that they are representing ordinary Congolese who need their dignity restored. But at the same time, this is a rebel outfit whose push across Eastern Congo has resulted in a terrible humanitarian crisis in this country, as well as the displacement of thousands, tens of thousands of people in this region.

STEWART: And Gwen, finally, has Congo's president contacted the rebels?

THOMPKINS: Not yet, Alison. He has not called. According to the rebel spokesman, he has not called. But the rebels are counting on the international community, particularly the United Nations, to press the matter and to bring about these negotiations. The U.S. envoy, Jendayi Frazier, came through this area in the later part of the week and reiterated the U.S. support for Congo's democratically elected leadership. It appears, however, that the rebels are hoping to impress the international community with their ability to lead in the areas that they control now. So they are encouraging displaced people to come back here, and they're also trying to make a point to the international community and to the Congolese government that they can govern better than Kinshasa can.

STEWART: NPR's Gwen Thompkins, reporting from a rebel-controlled region of the Democratic Republic of Congo. Take care, Gwen.

THOMPKINS: Thanks, Alison. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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